Chapter Eight
Sara didn’t have time to engage in a pissing contest. “You should’ve been more careful.”
“Damn straight,” Mindy said. “I’m four hundred years old and I can’t get rid of the twerp. Not your fault. Hold on.”
Surprised, and glad something was going right, she took a deep breath as Lacarre’s cultured voice came on the line. “Hunter.” A demand for why she was calling, and permission to speak, all in one word.
She explained. “If we could borrow Rodney for a few minutes, it might help clear things up.”
“Since the victims included two of my own, I’d be very interested in learning the identity of the perpetrator. We’ll be there shortly.”
Closing the phone, she hugged Deacon. “Think anyone would notice if I chucked it all in and ran screaming for the hills?”
Warm, strong hands rubbing over her back. “They might send the Slayer after you.”
“No flirting. Not now.”
“Later, then.” He didn’t stop the back rub. “I think this officially equals the oddest case of my career.”
“You and me both. I don’t know why I’m always surprised when vampires act as weird as ordinary humans. It’s not like they gain the wisdom of the ages with the transformation.” His heart beat strong and steady under her cheek. Solid. Calming. A woman could get used to that kind of an anchor.
They stood in silence for a long time, until Sara’s heart beat in rhythm with his. “Did you ever consider another career?” she asked in a low, private whisper, realizing she knew nothing of his past. It didn’t matter. It was the man he was today who fascinated her. “Aside from the Guild?”
“No.” A single word that held a wealth of history.
She didn’t push. “Me, either. I met my first hunter while I was living on a commune—don’t even ask—when I was ten. She was so smart and tough and practical. It was love at first sight.”
His chuckle sounded a little raw. “I saw mine after a bloodlust-crazed vampire destroyed our entire neighborhood. The hunter found me standing over the vampire, chopping his head off with a meat cleaver.”
She squeezed him tight. “How old were you?”
“It’s a wonder you’re not a psycho vampire-killer yourself.”
Somehow, it was the right thing to say. He laughed softly and all but folded himself around her, kissing her temple with a tenderness that shattered her remaining defenses like so much glass. “I decided I’d rather be one of the good guys. I don’t like tracking and executing my fellow hunters—every kill hurts like a bitch.”
And that, Sara suddenly knew, was why the last Slayer had chosen Deacon as his successor. The Slayer had to love the Guild with all his heart and soul. Every decision had to be made with the wrenching power of that love—Deacon would never execute a hunter without absolute, undeniable evidence. Otherwise, Marco would’ve been dead days ago.
Lifting up her head, she kissed his throat. “How do you feel about carrying on a secret affair with the Guild Director?” She couldn’t let him go. Not without a fight.
“I prefer the world know full well I consider a woman mine.” An uncompromising answer. “Secrets just come back to bite you in the ass.”
There went that possibility. Before she could come up with another, the front door vibrated under the force of an imperious knock. Lacarre had arrived. “Showtime.” Pulling away from Deacon, she walked over and let in both Lacarre and his entourage—Mindy, Rodney, and unexpectedly, the vampire who’d originally asked for their help. “Please come in.” She raised an eyebrow at the one who didn’t belong.
“We found him loitering,” Mindy said, waving a hand with insouciance that told them she couldn’t care less. “Lacarre decided he might be of help.”
The foreign vampire didn’t look especially pleased to have been dragged inside, but nobody said no to an angel.
“Where are the two men?” Lacarre asked, keeping his wings several inches off the floor so they wouldn’t drag on the sticky mess of glass, blood, and alcohol that coated the varnished surface.
“One’s behind there.” She nodded at the closed door that led up to Marco’s apartment. “And the other’s in the basement.”
Mindy stroked a hand down Deacon’s arm. “Do they look like this one?” It was a sultry invitation.
Deacon said nothing, just watched her with eyes gone so cold, even Sara felt the chill. Deacon did scary really, really well. Mindy dropped her hand as if it had been singed and returned to Lacarre’s side quick-fast. Rodney was already cowering behind the angel’s wings.
“You’d make a good vampire,” the angel said to Deacon. “I might actually trust the city wouldn’t fall apart if I left you in charge.”
“I prefer hunting.”
The angel nodded. “Pity. Rodney, you know what you have to do?”
Rodney bobbed his head so fast, it was as if it were on springs. “Yes, Master.” He looked childishly eager to please.
“Come on.” Keeping her voice gentle, Sara held out her hand. “I didn’t hurt you last time, did I?”
Rodney took a moment to think about that before coming over to close his fingers around her own. “They won’t be able to get me, will they?”
“No.” She patted his arm with her free hand. “All I want you to do is listen to their voices and tell me which one sounds like the man who hurt you.”
They went to Marco first, Lacarre and Mindy following. It made the hairs on the back of her neck rise to have a powerful angel and his bloodthirsty vampire floozy behind her—she was able to bear it only because Deacon was bringing up the rear, with Silas’s friend in front of him. “Marco.” She banged on the door. “I want you to threaten to cut off Rodney’s head.”
Rodney shot her a wide-eyed look. She whispered, “It’s just pretend.”
Marco began yelling a second later. Eyes wide, Rodney skittered away from the door and Sara felt her stomach fall. “Is it him?” she asked, after Marco went quiet.
Rodney was shivering. “No, but he’s scary.”
Lacarre wasn’t fond of the basement idea, but he came down with them. And when Silas refused to do as ordered, the angel whispered, “Or would you rather I come in for a private . . . talk?” Silky sweet, dark as chocolate, and sharp as a stiletto sliding between your ribs.
If Sara had ever had any delusions about trying to become a vampire, they would’ve died a quick death then and there. She never wanted to be under the control of anyone who could put that much cruelty, that much pain, into a single sentence.
Chastened, Silas made a wooden threat. About as scary as a teddy bear. Sara was about to order him to do it with more feeling when Rodney turned around and tried to run back up the stairs. Deacon caught him. “Shh.”
To Sara’s surprise, the vampire clung to him as a child would to its father. “It was him. He’s the bad man.”
Lacarre stared at the back of Rodney’s head, then at Sara. “Bring this Silas upstairs. I will hear from the hunter as to what happened.”
Sara had her crossbow at the ready, but it proved unnecessary. Tall, dark, and striking Silas, his clothes torn and bloody, followed them meek as a lamb. Leaving him in front of Lacarre and Mindy—with the foreign vamp skulking in the background—she released Marco and walked with him to the others.
Silas glared at his ex-lover. “You kill and put the blame on me.”
Marco ignored him, staring straight ahead as he recited what Sara believed to be the truth. Around the time that he got to his rejection of Silas, the out-of-town vampire gasped and said, “I believed you!”
“Be quiet!” Silas screamed.
Lacarre raised an eyebrow. “No. Continue.”
“He has done this before,” the foreign vampire said. “Three decades ago, when a human he’d been romancing left him for another vampire, he killed four of our own kind.”
Sara met his eye. “Were they men with strong ties to humanity?”
“Yes.” A trembling answer. “He told me the bloodlust had gotten hold of him. He was young . . . I protected him.” The clearly shaken vampire took a deep breath and turned his back on his former friend. “I no longer do.”
Silas screamed and jumped up as if to attack, but Deacon brought him down with a single chop to the throat. The vamp went down like a tree. Marco flinched but didn’t turn even then.
“As I said,” Lacarre murmured,“it’s a great pity you don’t wish to be Made. If you ever change your mind, let me know.”
Deacon’s smile was faint. “No offense, but I like being my own master.”
“I’d tempt you with beauties like Mindy, but it seems you’ve made your choice.” He walked over to Silas’s unconscious body. “The Guild has the right to demand restitution and proffer punishment. What is your will?” A question aimed solely at Sara. As if she were already director.
Sara glanced at Marco, saw the struggle on his face and knew there could be only one answer. “Mercy,” she said. “Execute him with mercy.” For they all knew that Silas wouldn’t be allowed to live. “No torture, no pain.”
Lacarre shook his head. “So human.”
She knew it wasn’t a compliment. “It’s a flaw I can live with.” She never wanted to become anything close to what Lacarre was—so cold, even when he looked at her with such apparent interest.
“So be it.” Walking over to Silas, he bent and gathered the vampire in his arms with effortless strength. “It will be done as you asked.”
As he walked away, Mindy and the others trailing behind the wide sweep of his cream-colored wings, Sara saw Deacon put a hand on Marco’s shoulder. A single squeeze. Words whispered so low that she couldn’t hear what was said. But when Deacon moved back to her side, Marco no longer looked like he was dying a slow, painful death. Oh, he was hurting plenty, but there was also a glimmer of stubborn will, the kind that made humans into hunters.
He turned to Sara. “I’m withdrawing my resignation from the Guild. I thought . . . I hoped, but I can’t stay here anymore.”
“I’ll make sure Simon knows.”
“Not necessary, is it, Sara?” he said quietly. “So long as you do.”
Sara said good-bye to Deacon outside the hotel six hours later. He had his gear and she had hers. Ellie was waiting for her in a clean rental car, ready to start the drive to New York. One last road trip before she became bogged down in the myriad responsibilities that came along with running one of the most powerful and influential chapters of the Guild.
“The next year’s going to be brutal,” she said to Deacon as he sat sideways on his bike, his legs stretched out in front of him, and his arms folded. “Just as well you said no—I probably couldn’t carry on a secret affair even if I tried.” She should’ve laughed then, but she couldn’t find any laughter inside her.
He didn’t do anything sappy. He was Deacon. He stood, put his hand behind her neck, and kissed the breath out of her. Then he kissed her again. “I have some things to do. And you have a directorship waiting for you.”
She nodded, the whiskey and midnight taste of him in her mouth. “Yeah.”
“You better go. Ellie’s waiting.”
Squeezing him tight once more, she turned and walked away. He was right to do it this way. Whatever they had, the sweet, shining promise she could still see hovering on the horizon, it deserved to be left whole, instead of being crushed under the weight of unmet expectations.
“Drive,” she said to Ellie the instant the door closed behind her.
Ellie took one look at her and didn’t say a word. In fact, neither of them spoke until they’d crossed the state line. Then Ellie glanced over and said, “I liked him.”
The unadorned remark splintered every one of Sara’s defenses.
Dropping her head into her hands, she cried. Ellie pulled over to the side of the wide-open road and held her while she sobbed. Her best friend didn’t insult either of them by spouting bullshit platitudes. Instead, she said, “You know, Deacon didn’t strike me as the kind of man who lets go of things that matter.”
Sara smiled, knowing her face was a blotchy mess. “Can you see him in a tux?” Her stomach tightened at the idea.
“Let me get the visual. Okay, I have it.” Elena sighed. “Oh, baby, I could lick him up in a tux.”
“Hey. Mine.” It was a growl.
Ellie grinned. “I have a pulse. He’s hot.”
“You’re an idiot.” One who’d made her smile, if only for an instant. “I can just picture him shaking hands and playing Guild politics. Not.”
“So?” Ellie shrugged. “The Guild Director has to do all that stuff. Who says her lover has to be anything but a big, scary, silent son of a bitch?”
It was tempting to agree, to hold on to hope, but Sara shook her head. “I have to be realistic. The man’s a complete loner. It’s why he’s the Slayer.” Dragging in a shaky breath, she sat back up and said, “Take us to New York. I have a job to do.”
Strong words, but her fingers found their way into a pocket, skating over the tiny serrated sawblade hidden within. It was Deacon’s. The man had some really interesting weapons—like a gun that fired these spinning circular babies instead of bullets. It was what he’d been using out in Tim’s junkyard. That made her wonder how Lucy was doing.
A tiny smile tugged at her lips—who knew her favorite memory of Deacon would be of him cuddling a vicious hellhound of a dog?